A "sophisticated" teenager has had £2.1m ($2.88m) in cryptocurrency confiscated after he set up a phishing site and advertised it on Google, duping consumers into handing over gift voucher redemption codes.
The schoolboy set up a website impersonating gift voucher site Love2Shop. Having done that he then bought Google ads which resulted in his fake site appearing above the real one in search results, Lincoln Crown Court was told.
Crown prosecutor Sam Skinner told Her Honour Judge Catarina Sjölin Knight that the boy, whose identity is protected by a court order, harvested £6,500 worth of vouchers in the week his site was active. Love2shop began investigating in April 2020 after a customer complained, at which point the boy took down his fake site.
The stolen vouchers were converted into Love2Shop vouchers on the A-level student's own account. A later police investigation discovered 12,000 credit card numbers on his computer along with details for 197 Paypal accounts.
On top of that, the teen had bought Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies using ill-gotten gains. The prosecutor claimed the boy's stash of 48 Bitcoins were at one point worth £200,000. They would have been worth £427,352 when police arrested him in August last year, and have since risen to £2.1m.
Sentencing the boy earlier this week, HHJ Knight commented in court: "If he was an adult he would be going inside."
She told the boy, as reported by Lincolnshire Live: "You have a long-standing interest in computers. Unfortunately, you used your skills to commit a sophisticated fraud."
The teen received a 12-month youth rehabilitation order, having pleaded guilty to money laundering and fraud by false representation. HHJ Knight also granted a confiscation order against the boy on the grounds that the Bitcoin was the proceeds of his crimes.
In a statement outside court, Detective Constable Luke Casey of Lincolnshire Police described the culprit as having carried out a "sophisticated cyber fraud" that required a "complex investigation".
DC Casey added: "Cryptocurrency is often thought, by criminals, to be an anonymous way to move funds around undetected but I'm glad that in this case, we were able to highlight that the police are now able to effectively investigate offences of this nature."
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Bitcoin transactions are all recorded on the digital asset's blockchain, a register of exactly who transferred what to whom and when. Many blockchain analysis companies now exist that claim to be able to resolve these to other digital identities or even real-world personalities.
The ease with which the boy was able to buy a Google advert to place his scam site above that of the real website, and for his fake site to remain live for a week while harvesting consumers' details, won't surprise Register readers. Phishing websites exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the National Cyber Security Centre alone taking down 700,000 such sites stretching across 1.4 million URLs during 2020.
The government has pledged to ban some forms of online anonymity in the UK through its Online Safety Bill, recently renamed from the Online Harms Bill. ®